PhD student Bethan Till is aiming to improve the fat composition of milk by feeding microalgae to her cows.

Andrew Forgrave, Rural Affairs Editor for dailypost.com.uk, writes about Caernarfon (Wales) scientist Bethan Till, who has been feeding micro-algae to dairy cows to develop “super healthy” dairy products. The PhD student hopes her findings will revolutionize dairy consumption as, she notes, the improved products have the potential to lower heart disease and boost mental wellbeing.

A tasting panel at Harper Adams University, in Shropshire, UK, has already given the thumbs up to cheese made from Ms. Till’s omega-3 enriched milk. “Fish is typically regarded as a natural source of omega-3s but the levels are diminishing and less fish is being consumed,” she said. “By increasing the level of omega-3 in cheese, which is already integrated into many people’s diets, they can have this healthier benefit without having to alter their eating and shopping habits.”

“It’s also a good route to ensure that children achieve good intake levels of omega-3s as they’ll more readily consume milk and cheese, than, say, fish,” she notes.

Bethan’s study at Harper Adams involved feeding one of four diets to high yielding Holstein-Friesian dairy cows. Three of these diets contained micro-algae at different concentrations, with medium levels found to work best. Cow performance, in terms of feed intake, milk yield and body condition score, was unaffected.

The study’s primary goal is to find ways of improving Western diets, which typically provide less-than-recommended levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. As well as off-setting cardiovascular disease and depression, these omega-3 compounds have been shown to enhance children’s learning abilities.

A secondary goal is to assess whether microalgae improves fertility. US researchers have found improved reproduction in dairy cows, with increased conception rates and fewer days to pregnancy. However the Harper Adams study is still at its early stages. For Ms. Till, a key success of the Alltech-sponsored project was its positive impact on the taste of milk products. “From the cheese tasting panel, we found there were no negative effects on taste,” she said.

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